Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025393, Fri, 16 May 2014 10:41:27 +0300

pellet of muck in Ada
From Van's letter to Ada (written after Lucette's suicide): In other more deeply moral worlds than this pellet of muck, there might exist restraints, principles, transcendental consolations, and even a certain pride in making happy someone one does not really love; but on this planet Lucettes are doomed. (3.6)

In Garshin's story To, chego ne bylo ("That Which Was Not," 1882) the grasshopper compares the word to a pellet of muck of the dung-beetle (another character in the stroy):

- Вы, навозный жук, слишком сухо, а вы, муравей, слишком мрачно смотрите на жизнь, - возразил им кузнечик. - Нет, жук, я люблю-таки потрещать и попрыгать, и ничего! Совесть не мучит! Да притом вы нисколько не коснулись вопроса, поставленного госпожой ящерицей: она спросила, "что есть мир?", а вы говорите о своём навозном шаре; это даже невежливо. Мир - мир, по-моему, очень хорошая вещь уже потому, что в нём есть для нас молодая травка, солнце и ветерок. Да и велик же он! Вы здесь, между этими деревьями, не можете иметь никакого понятия о том, как он велик. Когда я бываю в поле, я иногда вспрыгиваю, как только могу, вверх и, уверяю вас, достигаю огромной высоты. И с неё-то вижу, что миру нет конца.

From Cordula's letter to Van (written after Lucette's suicide): La psychologie du suicide est un mystere que nul savant ne peut expliquer. (3.6)

In 1888 Vsevolod Garshin committed suicide by jumping from the fifth floor of his apartment building. The characters of Ada include Mr Arshin, an acrophobe:

Van had satisfied himself that it had nothing to do with clocks or calendars, or any measurements or contents of time, while he suspected and hoped (as only a discoverer, pure and passionate and profoundly inhuman, can hope) that the dread of heights would be found by his colleagues to depend mainly on the misestimation of distances and that Mr Arshin, their best acrophobe, who could not step down from a footstool, could be made to step down into space from the top of a tower if persuaded by some optical trick that the fire net spread fifty yards below was a mat one inch beneath him. (2.6)

Arshin is an old Russian measure of length (28 inches). In Garshin's story the dog puts its pink tongue out to almost half-arshin:

О домашних животных нечего и говорить: скот крупный и мелкий прятался под навес; собака, вырыв себе под амбаром яму, улеглась туда и, полузакрыв глаза, прерывисто дышала, высунув розовый язык чуть не на пол-аршина; иногда она, очевидно от тоски, происходящей от смертельной жары, так зевала, что при этом даже раздавался тоненький визг; свиньи, маменька с тринадцатью детками, отправились на берег и улеглись в чёрную жирную грязь, причем из грязи видны были только сопевшие и храпевшие свиные пятачки с двумя дырочками, продолговатые, облитые грязью спины да огромные повислые уши.

When Van meets Cordula Tobak in Lute (as Paris is also known on Antiterra), he greets her with the words:

The Veens speak only to Tobaks
But Tobaks speak only to dogs. (3.2)

Like Garshin, Esenin and Mayakovsky, Marina Tsvetaev committed suicide. The title of Marina Tsvetaev's autobiographical story To chto bylo ("That Which Was," 1912) echoes Garshin's To chego ne bylo. The characters of Marina Tsvetaev's story include Alfonsinka (Alphonsine Dijon, a French governess). Van dubbed the concierge of Alphonse Four (a hotel in Lute) 'Alphonse Cinq:'

The Bourbonian-chinned, dark, sleek-haired, ageless concierge, dubbed by Van in his blazer days 'Alphonse Cinq,' believed he had just seen Mlle Veen in the Recamier room where Vivian Vale's golden veils were on show. (3.3)

Garshin is the author of Chetyre Dnya ("Four Days," 1877), a story about the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78. In Krasnyi tsvetok ("The Red Flower," 1885) Garshin mentions Ariman (Ahriman, the evil spirit in the Zoroastrianism):

Цветок в его глазах осуществлял собою всё зло; он впитал в себя всю невинно пролитую кровь (оттого он и был так красен), все слёзы, всю жёлчь человечества. Это было таинственное, страшное существо, противоположность Богу, Ариман, принявший скромный и невинный вид.

In his eyes the flower personified the entire evil; it has absorbed all innocently spilled blood (that’s why it was so red), all the tears and all the bile of humanity. It was a mysterious, terrible creature, God’s opposite, Ahriman, that adopted a humble and innocent disguise.

Ariman = Marina = Armina (Demon Veen's Mediterranian villa where Van was conceived: Marina arrived in Nice a few days after the duel, and tracked Demon down in his villa Armina, and in the ecstasy of reconciliation neither remembered to dupe procreation, whereupon started the extremely interesnoe polozhenie ('interesting condition') without which, in fact, these anguished notes could not have been strung. 1.2)

Van's, Ada's and Lucette's mother, Marina is the twin sister of Aqua (Demon's wife who goes mad and commits suicide). According to Tyutchev (the author of "Twins"), samoubiystvo (suicide) and lyubov' (love) are twins:

И кто в избытке ощущений,
Когда кипит и стынет кровь,
Не ведал ваших искушений —
Самоубийство и Любовь!

In Tyutchev's poem Lyubov' (Love) rhymes with krov' (blood). Another pair of twins in the poem are Death and Sleep. Tyutchev is the author of Silentium! In Ada Silentium is Greg Erminin's motorcycle (in "Ardis the Second"):

'I last saw you thirteen years ago, riding a black pony - no, a black Silentium. Bozhe moy!'
'Yes - Bozhe moy, you can well say that. Those lovely, lovely agonies in lovely Ardis! Oh, I was absolyutno bezumno (madly) in love with your cousin!' (3.2)

Greg Erminin is the twin brother of Grace. At the picnic on her twelfth birthday Ada plays anagrams with Grace:

Ada asked her governess for pencils and paper. Lying on his stomach, leaning his cheek on his hand, Van looked at his love's inclined neck as she played anagrams with Grace, who had innocently suggested 'insect.'
'Scient,' said Ada, writing it down.
'Oh no!' objected Grace.
'Oh yes! I'm sure it exists. He is a great scient. Dr Entsic was scient in insects.'
Grace meditated, tapping her puckered brow with the eraser end of the pencil, and came up with:
'Incest,' said Ada instantly.
'I give up,' said Grace. 'We need a dictionary to check your little inventions.' (1.13)

There is a cruel pun on nasekomoe ("insect") in Gorky's "The Life of Klim Samgin" (1925-36). As he offers a beetle to Boris Varavka (Klim's playmate who was recently flogged in his military school), little Klim says: Na, sekomoe ("take it, the one who is being flogged"). Next winter Boris drowns skating on the ice of the frozen river and his body is never found. A leitmotif in Gorky's novel is the phrase of a man who expresses his doubts whether the boy had been there in the first place:

— Да был ли мальчик-то, может, мальчика-то и не было?
"And was there a boy, perhaps there was no boy at all?"

This question brings to mind Garshin's To, chego ne bylo and Marina Tsvetaev's To, chto bylo.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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